Your Long-Lost Friend

When your wandering eye lingers on a pair of knee-high boot socks, still in the packaging, don’t think for a second that this is just a meaningless, chance encounter. That kind of thinking is an epidemic in our society. From beginningless time, you and those boot socks have wandered through countless existences, meeting time and again in diverse forms. Now, you finally have the chance to express your love for them, and out of arrogance you dismiss them as just some pedestrian footwear.

I can tell you from experience that only to lay eyes on such a pair of socks can be a source of immense joy. The question is whether you know how to appreciate the bounty that is on offer from the universe.

Someone once asked me how we can change ourselves in the face of the overwhelming power of the unconscious. We are waylaid by our own hidden weaknesses and afflictions. Whatever project we undertake, we are sure to find in ourselves the greatest obstacle to our success. But all those difficulties come from the self-same primordial source, the undefinable storehouse of all potential phenomena, from which those boot socks arose. So we can hardly wish to overcome the thing that provides us with the very material of our happiness.

We want to enjoy knee-high boot socks, and we want to remove our afflictions, but how can we remove anything while leaving the source intact? And if the two come from the same source, are we also willing to let go of our boot socks in order to be free from our afflictions? This is a question that’s weighed heavily on me for the past five or six minutes, and so I pass it on to you for your consideration.

Until next time.

Monkey King of the World

If you’ve chanced upon the Plum Village Facebook page in the past few weeks, you may have noticed that mindfulness has a new face. I’ll save you the trouble of going to look:

His name is Ngo Khong, or Realization of Emptiness, otherwise known as the legendary Monkey King. His feats in this and prior lives are too numerable to mention, so I’ll just throw in a little quote from wikipedia:

Sun Wukong (Ngo Khong) possesses immense strength; he is able to lift his 17,550 lb staff with ease. He is also extremely fast, able to travel 13,468 mi in one somersault. (Note that this is more than half way around the world).

Note also, that this beast’s go-to mode of travel is by somersault.

Last week he was charged with a Journey to the Northeast, whereby we were to take some monks to the airport and then pick some different monks up from a much later flight. I agreed to accompany him for spiritual support, and created a detailed schedule for the dead time between the two flights. We were to wander on foot around Bordeaux, performing spiritual wonders and converting the land to the way of the Buddhadharma. Of course fate had something else in store.

After a successful 5am drop-off at the airport, a great whirlwind swept up our van and placed it in the quiet beach-side village of Cap Ferret. As the sun rose, Ngo Khong peacefully composed a new plan to fulfill our mandate of bringing the light of awakening into the world.

One contemplative nap later, all was decided. We would build a great temple on this very spot, and when the local people saw the radiance and splendor, they would come and learn the Dharma. Ngo Khong somersaulted to some place in the world rich with the finest of building materials, and with his supersimian strength somersaulted back with a tarp and some bamboo. After a few false starts, our temple was erected.

What followed literally defies description, so I won’t even try to tell you about the great feats that took place in the refreshing lotus-blossom shade of that tarp. I can give you a hint and say that our practice of eliminating worldly desires was so successful that we almost arrived on time to pick up our monastic brothers in Bordeaux.

Here are a couple of watercolor sketches that came out of the day, some land art from Ngo Khong and a picture of some of the bunkers left over on the beach from WWII. Take care everyone.

Land art

 

Little Known Facts

I’d like to share some spiritual insights I had from a recent trip to the Louvre. First of all, if you’ve never been to the Louvre, you need to know that it’s huge. Ridiculously huge. And having visited before and made myself sick trying to take it all in, this time I limited myself to a single wing: Greek Old Stuff.

I saw an ad for the self-guided tour as I passed the welcome desk, and thought, why not? You get headphones, and an interactive tour-guide on a rented… Nintendo DS? Alas! Have the evils of worldly entertainment invaded even that sacred houses of art? Driven by my fear of eternal damnation, I gave the rental booth a wide berth and decided that I’d be giving myself true self-guided tour.

The amazing thing about ancient art is that it’s one of the only ways we can get in touch with our distant ancestors. What were they like? And more importantly, how did they look? These relics are our only hints. Starting about six to eight thousand years ago, we can see from these representations that mankind was still in a primitive stage, before the development of arms, legs, and heads. My sketchy understanding of evolution leads me to conject that the direct ancestor of these early Greek men was either a worm or a violin.

Next up, a couple thousand years more recent, we see the first primitive arms and legs developing. The head comes onto the scene, but without the facial features, which follow shortly thereafter beginning with the nose. How did the ancient Greek tell friend from foe? By sense of smell, apparently.

A little bit later, man starts to develop some muscle forms on the body, moving slowly towards the evolutionary pinnacle attained by the body-builders of today. I think we can safely assume that these guys originally had heads, and that they were removed to protect the anonymity of the models.

And finally, the human being comes into her own as the beautiful Venus de Milo, who is perfectly developed in physical form, yet still demonstrates the relative simplicity of the ancient Greek, who was still at pains to fully dress herself.

To give her a little bit of credit, she did get halfway there. Fully clothed humans probably didn’t evolve until sometime in the past couple of hundred years.

And finally I’d like to give a shout out to Apollo, who after vanquishing a serpent, took the first selfie in history some 2500 years ago. And also to this random guy, who last week took the 500,000th selfie in history in front of this statue of Apollo.

I thought, this is too much. I have to get this once-in-a-lifetime photo. Not so. If you stand next to this statue of Apollo for fifteen minutes, you’ll have a dozen chances to take the same photo. Oh and by way of apology to art people, this is actually a renaissance statue. Forgive me.

After my inspiring day, I made a couple little sketches in watercolor and gouache.

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Lost Masterpieces and Naked People

I don’t really want to bore you with more lame sketches, but when I was back home over the Winter my mom discovered a secret treasure trove that I just have to show you. First of all I should probably reintroduce myself:
My parents are moving out of my childhood home, and now that I’ve dried my tears I can tell you that it truly is the end of the world. There’s even an apocalyptic fire that consumes all things. My Dad started it, and not long after he threw in my favorite shoes. My yellow shoes. As if things weren’t hard enough. It was out of compassion though because I bought new ones, and my sunshine shoes had really seen better days. My luggage for the trip back to Plum Village was already pushing the weight limit anyway.
Moving is a lot of work, especially when you’ve spent over thirty years cramming little remembrances into every empty corner of a two-story house. My mom pulled box after box from the attic, and I learned about a peculiar habit of hers. Every time she would put a box into the attic, she would date it and write what everyone in the family was doing at that moment. What a wealth of strange little time capsules. And then there was the jackpot: my fourth grade art notebook. Upon coming back here and sorting through all my junk from the past six years, I also discovered a few gems, so I’d like to propose a tour of my artistic development.
First, the early days:
After about fifth grade I think I decided I wasn’t an artist, so there’s a brief hiatus here. These next ones are from when I first started up again about fifteen years later:
And finally, here’s some of the figure drawings I did during my sabbatical, about five years of practice later:
I’ll leave you with a few Springtime shots of France.

Ape Cave People

For years, the gray skies of the Pacific Northwest offered only rain to the people below. A long night followed every desolate day and the people’s hope faltered. Even the Earth begged for some respite from eternal drizzle, but to no avail.

One day a man from that country sat on the edge of his soggy bed, with his soggy feet in his soggy socks, and in a moment of desperation he wished he could crawl into his own mouth to take refuge from the rain, for it was dryer in there than in his home.  He decided he had had enough. He gathered a group of four friends and one world-class photojournalist, and together they made the vow to set things right, to seek out the hidden place where Spring was bound and to set her free.

Our heroes. Please disregard the blue sky in this photo.

They journeyed for a long time, and met many obstacles… but the cameraman had his mind on higher things, so we don’t have any documentation of that. Then they arrived at the mouth of a great cave ruled by apes, the Ape Cave. Ten thousand apes armed with every manner of weapon poured from the mouth of the cave, and our four heroes fought a heroic battle. And The cameraman fought so heroically, and so blindingly outshone his fellow combatants, that he missed for the second time his chance to take photos, so we have to trust in the historical record that has been passed down to us.

Cole, Lauren, Jacob, and Emily

Then down, into the cave they went, where the darkness was so thick that they needed a flashlight to see a candle-flame. But one of our heroes brought the light of ages that outshines all other lights: the Coleman lantern. (Propane burning, not the liquid fuel variety.)

I smell trouble.

Are we done yet?

After a series of earth-shattering selfies and non-selfies with the lantern, all evil forces in the cave were dispelled and the four moved onward towards their goal. But it was still dark in the cave, and very drippy (on account of all the rain above-ground) so our photographer again neglected his photography duties.

At last, in the very deepest recesses of the cave, they found a blinding beam of Spring sunlight, and knew that they had accomplished their end. All that remained was to break the bonds of the infernal prison. They saw the determination and purity of heart in one another, and with a series of thunderous high-fives, shattered the walls of the underground cell and set Spring free at last.

And that’s the story of how after years in the making, my brother and I finally made good on our promise to go see the Ape Caves. Cole, Lauren, and Emily came along and we made a great day of it. It’s a beautiful spot if you’re ever in the area.

Tortoise, not Turtle

On behalf of the entire cast and crew of the holiday blockbuster Weekend at Turtle’s, I would like to apologize to the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature for our most grievous oversight in the naming of our film. It has been now made known to us that Grumaster Turtle, played by Turtle Hopkins, is in fact a tortoise. We are very sorry for any contribution to public misinformation we may have caused.

And while I’m at it, why don’t I say what we are really up to in all these photos? They’re from a neighborhood barbecue we had in Escondido way back in 2013. I was in Deer Park for a few months to take care of visa paperwork and my parents came down to visit.

They love me so much!

They love me so much!

Thay CQ loves me so much!

Thay CQ loves me so much!

I love me so much?!?

I love me so much?!?

We had a potluck not too far from the monastery, and got to meet a lot of the neighbors. There was cotton candy, obviously, and a lot of good food.

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I might also mention that it was one of the last times I got to spend with Thay Phap De, who passed away this year. He was a businessman, then a Catholic priest, and finally a Buddhist monk. Oh, and an avid rollerblader. His name means Young Brother, and he lived like one to the end. Now he’s rollerblading across the heavens somewhere. Take care bud.

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And here’s a couple more for the gallery. I’m running out of archived photos, I better steal myself a camera and get back into the hard work of documenting life.

Weekend at Turtle’s

When billionaire Grumaster Turtle loses both his hearing and eyesight, two spinsters pose as his long-lost brothers to try to win over the neighborhood and make off with the colossal inheritance.

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Helga Monkeynook and Diadora Phoop have lived in the neighborhood for years, working as the aging Mr. Turtle’s in-home assistants. But as the tycoon’s senses fail, Helga comes across certain documents while cleaning his study that suggest a turn of fate for the two maids.

Helga's plan begins to take shape.

Helga’s plan begins to take shape.

Working in league with a stylist-turned-clown from the neighborhood, they develop a formula for the perfect cotton candy: addictively delicious and chemically identical to human hair.

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The two crones plan a party for the whole neighborhood, introducing themselves as Turtle’s quirky and benevolent brothers.

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Hilarity ensues as Helga and Diodora jump back and forth between their roles as the help at the party, and the two guests of honor. Everything goes according to plan, but when a long-lost nephew shows up seeking a tearful reunion with one of the brothers, all bets are off!

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The neighbors are delighted by the touching family reunion, and stupefied by the delicious cotton candy, but when Mr. Turtle’s nephew gets a taste of Helga’s beard during an embrace of reconciliation, the sugar-spun scheme begins to unravel.

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I know I’ve tasted that beard somewhere before….

How will this heartwarming romp end? Who is this mysterious nephew? Why aren’t Mr. Turtle’s descendants actually turtles? Find out for yourselves, in Weekend at Turtle’s: coming soon to a theater near you.

P.S. Sisters Phu Nghiem and Man Nghiem, please don’t kill me.